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Wondering what we mean by "organizing"?

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you probably already know what “organizing? means in a community context. But if you’re someone who imagines color-coded filing systems or photo-ready closet space when you hear the title “organizer? –- this is what I thought until a couple of years ago -- check out the July 7 New York Times article “Obama’s Organizing Years, Guiding Others and Finding Himself.?

The article paints a clear picture of what a community organizer does.

Some of the main points are in the following excerpt.

...The small organization Mr. Obama worked for, the Developing Communities Project, was influenced by the thinking of Saul Alinsky, a Chicago native regarded as the father of community organizing. Mr. Alinsky viewed self-interest as the main motivation for political participation.

Mr. Obama saw it more broadly. “In his view, figuring out who you are and then getting that person to think about what he or she is going to do with it is the first step toward empowerment,? Daniel Lee, a fellow organizer, recalled. “He told me this was an extension of his own journey in struggling to find his identity.?

Mr. Obama shunned Mr. Alinsky’s strategy of using confrontation tactics like pressuring public officials and business leaders by picketing their homes.

“I think it was strategic that he would not have fallouts with people he disagreed with because he realized that he had to work with them not just on one particular issue, but on other issues down the road,? Mr. Kellman said.

Mr. Obama did adhere to the Alinsky principle of meticulously planning for meetings with people in power. The roles of the residents were scripted and the organizer was a quiet, inconspicuous presence.

One of the larger meetings Mr. Obama helped set up was at a church where about 600 people turned out to talk with officials about water contamination. He stood in the back holding a clipboard that had a diagram with the names and talking points for each of the residents. He also had arranged backups in case someone became too nervous to speak.

“People are asking Barack for instructions and he is giving them their roles and giving encouragement to people who had cold feet,? recalled Harold Lucas, who was a fellow organizer.

Afterward, Mr. Obama held an evaluation session with 20 or so residents, and one tenant led them in prayer.

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs